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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: Colin Morgan and Ellie Kendrick in Gloria, Hampstead Theatre (spoiler free and spoiler versions)

Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre  photo by Marc Brenner (1)
Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre photo by Marc Brenner

Spoiler free:

I work in an office and I work in publishing so there is definitely stuff to relate to in Branden Jacob-Jenkins play which is set at the offices of a New York magazine. Naturally there are some cultural differences, we don't tend to have cubicle work spaces here in the UK and perhaps favour a passive aggressive tone rather than direct confrontation, but the tensions, annoyances and rivalries are pretty much the same.

What we get in Gloria is portrait of human nature and relationships in a world of modern media, as told through the prism of office life, workplace tedium and ambition; and that portrait shows its true colours after a particular incident in the office.

Colin Morgan, Ellie Kendrick and Kae Alexander play editorial assistants Dean, Ani and Kendra at the magazine. They are young and ambitious, anxious to keep their careers moving. The presence of intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi) seems to bring out the best and worst of their ambitions, a symbol of just how far their careers have or haven't got. They measure their ambition in status: getting your own office and having an assistant and against what everyone else has or hasn't done - and how long they have or haven't done it.

The first half centre's on the morning after co-worker Gloria's (Sian Clifford) flat-warming party and the growing battle to write up the obituary profile of a pop star who has committed suicide. The second half is the fall out after the particular incident - more of which in the spoiler version below, but this is play probably best enjoyed knowing little of the actual plot.

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Production photos: Colin Morgan and Ellie Kendrick in Gloria, Hampstead Theatre

Timely that these production photos for Gloria at Hampstead Theatre have arrived as I'm seeing this tonight. Stupidly excited to see Colin on stage again (it's 10 years since I first saw him in Vernon God Little) and in this play by the brilliant Branden Jacob-Jenkins.

Gloria is at the Hampstead Theatre downstairs until July 22.

 


That was May in London theatre-land - casting, transfers, an anniversary and another bumper crop of thesp spots

600Gloria_FINAL_landscapeSmall* Stan fav Colin Morgan has been cast with Game of Thrones’ Ellie Kendrick in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre which just happens to be my newest favourite playwright. So lots of excitement for that. Gloria will also be a 10 year theatre anniversary for me and Colin. I first saw him (and mentally tipped him as one to watch) when he played the lead in Vernon God Little at the Young Vic in 2007.

* Keeping up the Game of Thrones thesp count in London’s theatre land is Natalie Dormer who’s been cast with David Oakes in Venus in Furs at Theatre Royal Haymarket from October.

* Colm Meaney joins Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Apollo Theatre which opens in July.

* Arthur Darvill of Broadchurch fame has been cast in Hir at Bush Theatre which opens on June 15.

* James Graham (This House) has a new political comedy, Labour of Love, coming to the Noel Coward Theatre in September starring Martin Freeman and Sarah Lancashire.

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REVIEW Theo James, Emilia Fox and love and talent in the internet age - Sex With Strangers, Hampstead Theatre

Sex-With-Strangers-Hampstead-364
Emilia Fox and Theo James, Sex With Strangers, Hampstead Theatre. Photo Tristram Kenton

You meet a man. First impressions aren't great but then you get to know him a bit better and there are areas of shared interest. One thing leads to another and that first impression feels like a long time ago. Then, just as things are looking good, that this might be something more substantial than merely the physical you do a bit of googling and discover his online persona. He becomes a stranger again. Do you trust what the man in front of you says?

Laura Eason's play Sex With Strangers pits Olivia (Emilia Fox) a talented writer who is starting to think her career will never take off against a successful young blogger Ethan (Theo James) who seems to have the world at his feet. Olivia craves some of the success Ethan has while Ethan admires her talent.

There are two tensions at play. The nature of Ethan's blog presents a very different person to the one Olivia has got to know and Ethan insists that isn't him, its a persona, a part he plays. Then there is the success and recognition. Olivia finds the internet and social media to be overly exposing but Ethan knows its power. However, while the internet has ultimately brought him success and exposure he wants to be known for a different type of work, work with a little more integrity and depth. Could he be using Olivia?

Some critics have found the dramatic tension in the play under powered and I'd agree to a point except that in the final scene you could almost hear the audience silently debating which way things would go. In fact the ending was the prime topic of overhead conversations as I was leaving, so the play and production obviously does something right.

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Review: Wild Honey, Hampstead Theatre and the obvious comparisons with the National Theatre's Platonov

Chekhov's early, untitled play has had two airings this year; plays are like buses, after all. First to arrive, via Chichester, was the David Hare's adaptation at the National Theatre using the title of the protagonist, Platonov. And now Hampstead Theatre has revived Michael Frayn's version called Wild Honey.

Having really enjoyed Platonov, I had high expectations for Wild Honey particularly as Geoffrey Streatfeild was taking the lead. But it also means that comparisons are inevitable. There are slight tweaks in the plot but at the centre you have the sharply intelligent Platonov who doesn't realise quite how discontent and boring his life has got until a former young lover Sofya (Sophie Rundle) reappears in his life, married to Sergey (Joe Bannister) a man he deems intellectually inferior.

He's newly married himself to a Sasha (Rebecca Humphries) to whom he is already growing indifferent. He prefers to spend time with the intelligent and beautiful widow Anna Petrovna (Justine Mitchell) and teasing the easily tormented, mousey scientist Marya (Jo Herbert).

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Review: The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures and Socialism, Hampstead Theatre

FillWyI0MDAiLCIyNTEiXQ-richardListTony Piper's three tiered set is nearly as high as the title of Tony Kushner's play is long. It's three storeys of a stripped-back brown stone in Brooklyn: stairs, landings and fragments of rooms - a bed and picture on one floor and a desk and chair on another.

This is the home of the Gus Marcantonio (David Calder) and where his family have gathered to discuss his determination to end his life. Gus is a retired longshoreman, a union man and communist. His sister Clio (Sara Kestelman) - a former nun and Maoist - has been staying to keep an eye on him but has called the family together and with them comes the baggage of their own lives.

Pill or Pier Luigi (Richard Clothier) is a gay school teacher who can't quite seem to give up his young, hustler boyfriend Eli (Luke Newberry) despite his husband Paul (Rhashan Stone) moving them out of the state. Empty or Maria Teresa (Tamsin Greig) has a pregnant girlfriend but turns to her ex husband Adam (Daniel Flynn) for sex occasionally. Adam lives in the basement and is a realtor. And the youngest is V (Lex Shrapnell) an angry, heterosexual builder who doesn't share the rest of the family's left leanings.

On the one hand you get a family that bickers, argues and sometimes laughs but on the other hand it is a play that muses on how the shifting landscape of modern life is challenging some long held views and values. That somewhat over simplifies what is a three and a half hour long play that has plenty of meat but isn't necessarily always easy to digest.

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Rehearsal pics: Hampstead Theatre's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism

Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures  - to use the full title - opens for previews on October 18 at Hampstead Theatre and runs until Nov 26. Starring Tamsin Greig it tells the story of a family gathering:

New York, 2007. Gus Marcantonio, retired longshoreman, former trade union organiser, renaissance man, feels that the world has turned its back on everything he has fought for in life. With his sister, he summons his three children home, trailing the appendages of their chaotic lives, to their Brooklyn brownstone for the last and most unusual family reunion yet...