71 posts categorized "Off West End" Feed

Review: In the mood for The Maids, Trafalgar Studios?

ImageI think I have to confess straight away that I don't think I was quite in the right frame of mind for The Maids. It had been a really hectic, demanding day at work - it's been a hectic and demanding few weeks in fact. I felt frazzled as I sat down in my on stage seat.

Described on the Jamie Lloyd Production company website as a 'full-throttle production' it is performed with a heightened tension and energy throughout, there is no first, second or even third gear.

The Maids is a translation by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton of Jean Genet's 70-year-old play which was based on real events in 1930's Paris when a maid killed her employer. In this version the action is transferred to America and in casting Zawe Ashton (Claire) and Uzo Aduba (Solange) as the sisters who work as maids it becomes a play not just about class prejudice but also racism.

In the opening scene, Claire is wearing a blond wig and a slip, stomping around the stage like a queen bitch, ordering Solange about who simpers, flatters and pampers.  It becomes quickly obvious that this is a game they play, a role-play that gets repeated but which always ends up with brutal revenge being enacted.

The role-play is slowly revealing and about the only thing that is slow. How much of what is revealed by the maids is real and how much is fantasy is unclear until you realise that their game is actually a rehearsal. If only their mistress (a fantastically un Lady Edith-like Laura Carmichael in knicker-skimming short skirt, shoulder pads and fur gilet) would return.

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Review: The hilarious and inventive A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith

Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton

From the moment Peter Quince (Ed Gaughan) steps out from behind the curtain and says 'you'll have a great evening but it probably won't be this one' you know this isn't going to be A Midsummer's Night's Dream like you've seen it before.

Filter Theatre has added its own play within the play (within the play - "it's meta"), Peter Quince and the mechanicals are re-imagined as a house band but with Bottom otherwise occupied, a replacement has to be found. 

The key scenes of Shakespeare's story of love, jealousy and fairies are extracted and performed with disregard to the fourth wall, without any pretence that it is real and with a liberal sprinkling of popular references and ad-libbing.

Oberon (Jonathan Broadbent) is a Lycra clad, asthmatic super hero or super villain depending on his mood. He doesn't hide his in-vain attempts to fly although he does come up with one rather amusing solution.

Puck (Ferdy Roberts) is dressed as a Lyric Theatre handyman with a tool belt in which he also keeps equipment for sound effects. He likes nothing better than an excuse to take the weight off and swig from a can of Fosters.

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Rehearsal photos: A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Lyric Hammersmith

Jonathan Broadbent as a silver cape wearing Oberon? Yes please and if the trailer (below) and rehearsal pics are anything to go by this looks fun. I'm also hoping to make up for missing him in Stratford last year. Cast also includes Ferdy Roberts, Hammed Animashaun, John Lightbody, Victoria Mosely and Clare Dunne. It runs at the Lyric Hammersmith from February 19 to March 19 and the trailer featuring Jonathan is at the bottom of the post. Click on the thumbnails for bigger versions.


  • Jonathan Broadbent & Ferdy Roberts - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • L-R Victoria Moseley, John Lightbody, Hammed Animashaun & Clare Dunne - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • L-R Hammed Animashaun, Jonathan Broadbent & Clare Dunne - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Cat Simmons - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Jonathan Boradbent & Clare Dunne - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Hammed Animashaun - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Ferdy Roberts - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ferdy Roberts - A Midsummer Night's Dream


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Review: Simon Stephens' poetic and pregnant Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

Sophia Decaro, Billy Matthews, Max Gill, Moses Adejimi and Ella McLoughlin. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Sophia Decaro, Billy Matthews, Max Gill, Moses Adejimi and Ella McLoughlin. Photo by Tristram Kenton

The more Simon Stephens plays I see the more of the poetry I see in them. His most recent, A Song From Far Away, completely disarmed me last Autumn. Herons is a revival of an early work and probably sits more with the likes of Port and Blindsided in tone.

It is a short, pregnant piece where Stephens tells you just enough to let your imagination run wild. The set is part urban canalside with a lockgate and partially submerged playground with a roundabout and one of those spring mounted rocking-horses where the school kids hang out. A screen at the back of the stage loops a wildlife film showing monkeys living in the wild and suggests watering hole.

Scott (Billy Matthews) is the leader of a gang and the school bully. He has a message for Billy (Max Gill) to pass onto his dad (Ed Gaughan) from his brother Ross who is in prison. A message that is blantantly passive aggressive and makes Billy scared. Something happened to a girl at their schoool, something to which they are all directly or indirectly connected, something that haunts the school ground and all their relationships.

But Billy has other problems, family problems. His dad spends his days at the canal and can't get a job. His brother and sister live with his mum and the threat of being taken into care hangs heavy in the air.

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Review: The funny and shocking Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, Trafalgar Studios 2

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, Kate Maravan as Di photo Ikin Yum
Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, Kate Maravan as Di photo Ikin Yum

Reputation or rather loss of it has been a common theme in English literature for hundreds of years but James Fritz's new play has a distinctly modern take on the subject.

David (Jonathan McGuinness) and Di (Kate Maravan) have a 17-year old son Jack who is about to take exams and has a life full of promise and opportunity ahead of him. We never see Jack, this is his parents' story about how they deal with something he has done something that can't be undone because it is on the internet. Something that could damage his reputation forever.

It is a parents nightmare but not one David and Di ever imagined having and to make matters worse, as the full extent of what Jack has actually done is slowly revealed, their view of their son is challenged.

Fritz's play is brilliantly written, sharp, funny and dark. At first David and Di seem like typical parents. They disagree, Di overreacts, David says the wrong thing and from the guffaws among the audience there is plenty that can be identified with. But it isn't just Jack's reputation that is threatened, his parents marriage is put under great strain by the events.

At first they will do anything to protect their son against what they see as an injustice and juggle the pro's and con's of official channels versus more direct action. But revealing conversations with Jack's friend Nick (Anyebe Godwin) and his ex-girlfiend Cara (Ria Zmitrowcz) put their son in a different light. David and Di's response to the revelations and strategy for dealing with the situation are revealing in themselves. Fritz raises important questions about teenage attitudes towards sex and the internet. He also challenges class stereotypes revealing how prejudice can lead to injustice.

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds deftly weaves humour with some of the darker aspects of society creating a piece that is funny, shocking and thought-provoking. It is 90 minutes long and well worth a look. You can catch it at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until 5 December. It transferred from the Hampstead Theatre where it enjoyed a sell out run.


Review: Tom Hughes is on death row in Ticking, Trafalgar Studios

Niamh Cusack and Tom Hughes in Ticking, Trafalgar Studios. Photo by Bronwen Sharp

My second execution-themed play of the week (Measure for Measure was the first) was a tense and emotional affair.

It's set in a far eastern prison where Simon (Tom Hughes) is visited by his parents (Niamh Cusack and Anthony Head) on the evening of his execution. He's waiting to hear whether he has had a last minute reprieve from the firing squad.

Trafalgar Studios bijou theatre 2 is simply set up as prison waiting room. Institutional, grubby, there is a wooden bench and a chair and a guard always on view. A small hole in a frosted glass and barred window gives Simon a view of the gathered press and crowds outside the prison.

Simon swings from terrified, to resigned, to resentful and it is into this heady mix of heightened emotions he has what could be his last conversation with his mum and dad. Something is eating at him; something has eaten into his relationship with his dad, something that might just get vomited up at this crucial hour. Facing death his life, and that of his parents, come under the spotlight.

Tom Hughes's Simon is at times a brattish, spoilt, entitled, stretching your levels of sympathy. He can be cruel and cutting but also funny, vulnerable and ultimately tragic.

It is Niamh Cusack who really pulls at your heart strings, the mother being ripped to emotional bits and desperately trying, and sometimes failing, to keep it together. The small performance space and proximity to the actors intensifies the emotions as the clock ticks towards Simon's fate. You feel like you are locked in the prison with him.

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Review: Tipping the Velvet, Lyric Hammersmith

Ttv_showpageSarah Waters' best selling novel of a lesbian love affair set in the musical halls of late Victorian London has been adapted for the stage by Laura Wade. Its setting naturally lends itself for the theatre, the production, directed by Lyndsey Turner, has milked the music hall-variety act theme adding in numerous flares and flourishes.

There is a live band (who double up as extra's on stage) and a compere/narrator (David Cardy) in top hat and tails who knocks a gavel to end a scene or pause the action to give a commentary. It's primarily a device to allow time for scene changes.

The heroine of the story (and production) is Nan (Sally Messham) who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty (Laura Rogers) and follows her on a journey through London's vibrant and less salubrious districts; magic tricks, puppetry and acrobatics are all weaved into the story. It is a spectacle and some of it works brilliantly but not all of it.

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Review: Strindberg's The Father at Trafalgar Studios 2

Emily Dobbs and Alex Ferns in The Father, Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Tristram Kenton

When August Strindberg wrote The Father he was going through marital problems and boy do they show in this tug of love play about two parents fighting over their daughter's education. There's a bit more to it than that, of course, but that is what kicks things off.

Captain (Eastenders' Alex Ferns) is a military officer and scientist and lives in a house with his wife Laura (Emily Dobbs), daughter Bertha (Millie Thew) and nanny (June Watson) together with an unseen nurse and mother-in-law.

He wants to send Bertha to live with a family in town for her education and also to get her away from the influence of the women in the house who have differing religious beliefs. Captain himself is an atheist.

Demonstrating his rights as a father, and the lack of those for Laura as his wife and a mother, he tells her that Bertha is going to be sent away.

Laura uses the only things available to her, her wile and cunning to prevent the plans. She plants seeds of doubt in the Captain's mind about Bertha's paternity and begins to spread rumours about his mental health. Strindberg himself was to suffer from some sort of mental breakdown resulting in hospitalisation just a few years after writing The Father.

So this isn't just a battle about parents who disagree but a battle between the sexes in a misogynistic society and a battle for sanity. Getting Captain sectioned is a cunning move, as he points out to his wife, she needs him alive in order to maintain her lifestyle. (Interesting that this has been programmed at the same time as The Ruling Class on the main stage which is also about getting someone sectioned.)

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Review: Harriet Walter and Guy Paul in Boa, Trafalgar Studios

Harriet Walter and Guy Paul in Boa. Production photo by Helen Murray

While James McAvoy is singing, dancing and believing he is god on the Trafalgar's main stage, Harriet Walter and her husband Guy Paul are telling a more sedate yet emotionally tense story in the studio space next door.

Boa, written by Clara Brennan who penned the fabulous Spine, tells the story of a couple who have been married for 30 years. Flitting back and forth in time we learn how they met and the trials and tribulations of their relationship through career pressures and moves to a different country. Boa (Walter) is a dancer, drunk and depressive. Louis is a Pulitzer prize winning war journalist with an appetite for danger and a dose of post traumatic shock.

The play opens with Louis visiting Boa in her dressing room after what appears to be a separation.

Their chosen professions mean they aren't an ordinary couple with everyday lives but the love, frustrations and strains within their marriage are like any other relationship. They are a fun couple to spend time with, there is obviously a deep affection between them and a relaxed and witty banter when things are going well. When tensions mount the accusations start and emotional daggers are drawn.

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Review: Accolade, St James Theatre in a contemporary context and a rising star

Alexander Hanson and Abigail Cruttenden in Accolade, St James Theatre

Accolade is a brilliantly written and performed play but I couldn't decide whether it was of its time or transcends its 1950's setting.

It shocked sensitive middle class audiences at the time it was first staged not only for the infidelity plotline but the manner of that infidelity. Sitting watching it 60 years later it feels shocking for what I think is a very different reason.

Written by Emlyn Williams, it follows the story of avant garde novelist and family man Will Trenting (Alexander Hanson) who is about to be knighted in the New Year honours. Will leads a double life and his publisher is worried that the press will find out.

He likes to escape from the social constraints of his middle class life to spend time in pubs in less salubrious parts of London and throwing orgiastic parties. The social and sexual freedom not only liberates him but also inspires his plots and some of his characters in his award winning novels. Its a necessary relief valve which enables him to carry on living among the higher ranks of society.

Playing the artistic temperament or literary equivalent to a method actor off against something more acceptable to a conservative society is not the only way in which Williams was wrong-footing his audience at the time.  He also gives Will an understanding and accepting wife  in the form of Rona (Abigail Cruttenden) who confesses to having always been attracted to his wilder, impulsive side. And, his friends from his other life husband and wife Harold (Jay Taylor) and Phyllis (Olivia Darnley) seem like all round good eggs who just happen to go swinging on the weekends. It's all very matter of fact for them.

You can see how all this would have caused a sharp intake of breath. In 2014 it takes a lot more than all of this to shock. Perhaps Rona's acceptance and understanding is a little surprising but then had it been otherwise it would have made this a very different play.

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