202 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

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.

 


The new play, new theatre experience - Young Marx at the Bridge Theatre

IMG_5152The benefits of being a brand new theatre is that you can address a lot of the niggles people have with older theatres: uncomfortable seats, lack of space for refreshments, bad sight-lines and not enough ladies loos etc. Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr's Bridge Theatre beautifully situated on the opposite bank of the Thames to the Tower of London seems to have made a pretty good job of it.

Walking in, it is light and airy without feeling stark and impersonal and I imagine the spacious cafe/bar area will double as a nice daytime hangout. The seats are comfortable (a bit like those at the Royal Court) but sight-lines will have to be an ongoing test as the configuration is going to change. For this production we sat in the middle of front row and although the stage is reasonable high, I've sat closer to higher stages, so it was perfectly fine.

And as for the ladies loos, there are lots of them and there is even an 'in' and 'out' door to the main facilities similar to The Globe which means a better flow if you'll excuse the pun. Only one minor quibble is that the coat/bag hooks on the back of cubicle doors are really high - I had to stand on tip toes to reach it. I know I'm short but even so it was the primary topic of conversation as people were washing their hands.

And what about the play? It would have been easy to open with a relatively safe classic but Hytner and Starr are setting out their stall by choosing a new play by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman. Obviously they aren't strangers, Hytner having directed Bean's plays England People Very Nice, One Man, Two Guv'nors and Great Britain and this has the potential to be a crowd pleaser.

It's a bit of a romp in fact, telling the story of the time, the 30-something Karl Marx's (Rory Kinnear) lived in exile with his family in Soho. The central narrative is his journey from disillusioned genius, thinking of jacking it all in to work on the railways, back to the writer, thinker and activist he is famed for.

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Review: Life, the universe and family drama in Mosquitoes, National Theatre

Mosquitoes-v2-1280x720There are five ways the world will end, we are told by a scientist (Paul Hilton), but Luke's (Joseph Quinn) world is ending, not because of particles and black holes but because of that incident, in the bedroom of the only girl that talks to him.

Luke is clever and bright, he comes from an intelligent family. His mum Alice (Olivia Williams) is a brilliant scientist working on the Hadron Collider, his grandmother Karen (Amanda Boxer) was also a scientist and his grandfather won a Nobel prize. His aunt Jenny (Olivia Colman), on the other hand, prefers reading horoscopes and Googling answers to questions. Luke thinks she is stupid and so secretly does Alice and, not so secretly, so does, Karen.

As the Hadron Collider is about to be switched on tragedy throws the family together and it will be more than particles colliding in Geneva.

Mosquitoes mixes art and science examining intellect versus emotion and the extraneous variables that human nature brings to life. It puts family and parenting under the spotlight; Luke and Alice may be clever with computers and physics but they stumble when it comes to relationships. Jenny is led by emotion, making decisions that her family would say lack intellectual rigour, with painful 'told you so' consequences but she shouldn't necessarily be written off, there are stronger bonds and human needs that science can't help with or explain.

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Review: Friendship, politics and power in the RSC's Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket #RSCQueenAnne

Queen Anne marketing image_ Theatre Royal Haymarket 2017_2017_211146The RSC's production of new play Queen Anne opens with a satirical song about the monarch's many pregnancies, the joke being that her latest was just trapped wind. It is a humorous song with barbs, Anne is portrayed by a man with fake fat belly and voluminous breasts - her reign was said to have seen the birth of political satire, if not an heir to the throne. 

It is one of a handful of satirical songs that pepper the play, reflecting political opinions and gossip, and a growing tool for those trying to manipulate or discredit the monarch, her politicians and advisers. These songs are like the equivalent of an 18th century Spitting Image sketch. There is a disquieting irony to the fact that the same day I was watching the play, our 21st century Parliament was discussing abuse and intimidation in the run up to the last election.

The song feels both cruel and understandable when we meet the Queen (Emma Cunniffe) for the first time. She appears sickly, weak - physically and mentally - evasive on important issues and prone to changing her mind and yet there is something tragic, pitiable and occasionally admirable about her too.

Her personality means she is putty in the hands of her supposed friend Sarah Churchill (Romola Garai) who has wit, intelligence and confidence in abundance. Sarah and her husband John (Chu Omambala) are also skilled at negotiation and manipulation, using the Queen for their own advantage and that of their political allies.

However, Sarah doesn't so much overestimate how much power and influence she has over her friend but just how far she can be pushed. While the Queen is to a large extent a pawn among political factions, in her naivete she is perhaps wiser than the Churchill's give her credit but there is no mistaking the killer blow she ultimately delivers.

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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: Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle make newspaper history in Ink, Almeida Theatre

1470x690One of the early scenes of James Graham's Fleet Street-set play Ink sees Bertie Carvel's Rupert Murdoch at a meeting to officially sign the deal that will put The Sun newspaper in his ownership. It's 1969 and the men in suits shake hands and ask after each other's wives who naturally 'send their love'. Murdoch waits quietly while this goes on then asks if the foreplay is over and if they can now get on with the fucking.

It is a symbol of his forthright, no nonsense style that was to disrupt Fleet Street and change the British newspaper industry. It also sort of sums up the two halves of the play. The first half has the fun, laughs and sharp wit as it follows Murdoch's chosen editor Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle) putting together the editorial team and the content for the first issue under new ownership. The second half gets more serious and looks at the consequences of the direction in which he has taken the paper.

Lamb is tasked with making The Sun 'fun' and boosting its flagging circulation, pushing it ahead of The Mirror which is outselling its rival quite considerably.

What Murdoch gives Lamb is permission to disrupt the accepted norm; just because newspapers have never done something, doesn't mean they shouldn't. Why give readers what you think they want when you can give them what they actually do want. Lamb rises to the challenge and while the strategy behind his approach seems in some ways so obvious now, it was radical at the time. However, there are also lines he is given that could apply to the media now.

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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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Review: Post war modern women and making babies in Kiss Me, Trafalgar Studios 2

Kiss Me - production images - Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Claire Lams - Photos by Robert Day 10
Kiss Me: Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Claire Lams - Photo by Robert Day

It is 1929 and women out number men, the result of the First World War and Spanish influenza. Where are the men for a lorry driving, war widow like Stephanie (Claire Lams), perceived as past her prime at 32, independent - had to be during the war - and wanting a baby.

Who is there is Dennis (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), a sperm donor but not of the turkey baster sort.

In Stephanie's small room at her lodgings - landlady out the way - their unusual transaction is about to take place. Dennis is stiff backed, stickler for the rules of engagement - no kissing on the mouth - as laid out by the bohemian doctor who sets up the liaisons. He has the air and manner of posh and is well turned out - you could easily see him in uniform. Stephanie is nervous, chatting relentlessly, breaking the rules but she's also funny not afraid to poke fun at their situation, raise an eyebrow at an unwitting double entendre or talk about her sex.

Unexpected consequences arise from this unorthodox transaction and when rules get broken the two have to examine their pasts, their motives and where their lives are going. As the mirrors of Stephanie's room reflect back their appearances, their relationship exposes some truths about themselves.

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Review: Powerful and haunting - The Enchanted, The Bunker Theatre

The Enchanted  The Bunker  - Courtesy of Dina T (1)
The Enchanted The Bunker - Courtesy of Dina T

There is no doubt that Arden (Corey Montague-Sholay) and York (Hunter Bishop) have killed. This isn't a miscarriage of justice death row drama or a did they or didn't they, this is story of two murderers waiting for execution and how they face it while a Lady (Jade Ogugua) makes a last ditch effort to get the death penalty over turned.

Adapted by Joanna and Connie Treves from Rene Denfeld's poetic novel, The Enchanted is narrated by Arden and takes a walk in the shoes of the two convicts and their pasts. Locked in windowless cells a trip to the visitors room is the only glimpse of the outside world they get. They aren't allow any human contact and you don't fully comprehend what that would be like until it is laid bare by Arden.

He weaves his own thoughts, observation and history with York's story, the Lady's conversations with people from his past and the Fallen Priest (Jack Staddon) who is a regular death row visitor. The monologues and dialogues are punctuated with ebbs and flows of movement that serve to illustrate the outside world that is unreachable and alien to the prisoners.

Puppets of the young York and his mother and Arden as a child stalk the background as a harsh reminder of the journey they've been on in their short lives. The actors also write and draw with chalk on the floor and back wall of the stage although I'm not sure this particular device is entirely necessary or effective.

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Review: Threat, forgiveness and the search for truth in Jam, Finborough Theatre

Harry-Melling-Jasmine-Hyde-in-Jam-Photo-credit-MATHEW-FOSTER
Harry Melling and Jasmine Hyde in Jam, Finborough Theatre, photo Mathew Foster

The synopsis of this debut full length play by Matt Parvin reminded me a teeny bit of Blackbird - a confrontation between two adults about an incident that happened when one of them was still a child. In Jam, Bella Saroush (Jasmine Hyde) is a teacher who's got her life back on track - new job, new school, after an incident in a classroom ten years earlier.

That incident involved pupil Kane McCarthy (Harry Melling) whom she finds back in her classroom one evening with a baseball bat in his backpack claiming to seek forgiveness. It isn't just a case of whether Kane is to be believed but also whether the truth of what happened lies in what they both remember.

Over one hour and forty minutes the two verbally spar, teasing the audience with versions of their truth. Harry Melling's Kane has an unpredictability in the way he moves, as well as in his tone and dialogue; it makes him feel dangerous at times and yet he also portrays a vulnerability and hints of remorse that keep you guessing. There are clues in the briefest looks and gestures.

Jasmine Hyde's Miss Saroush is a battle between scepticism, trust and anger. Is her compassion wrapped up in guilt or a genuine sensitivity that ultimately makes her vulnerable and, even after 10 years, easily played?

Kane and Miss Saroush's is a game of own truths or daring to admit the truth, as an audience you have to weed out which is which. Jasmine Hyde and Harry Melling superbly amplify the tension, ambiguity and flaws of their characters and it makes for compelling viewing. I'm giving it four stars and it's at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court until June 17.