120 posts categorized "West End" 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: Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket

117118Given that Venus in Fur is about an actress auditioning for a male writer/director it was inevitably that pre-theatre conversations would turn to Harvey Weinstein and the treatment of women by men in positions of power in the entertainment industry. It is perhaps unfortunate timing for a play with such a synopsis but while it does explore male/female relationships and power it thankfully doesn't stray into that territory.

David Ives has written a play within in play. Writer/director Thomas (David Oakes) has adapted for the stage, the 1870 novel Venus in Furs which is said to have inspired the term 'masochism'. He has got to the end of a long day of fruitless auditions for the central character Wanda when Vanda Jordon (Natalie Dormer) turns up insisting she auditions.

She is unsubtle - brash even, and won't take no for an answer even if she appears to be the opposite of what Thomas is looking for. He reluctantly agrees that she can perform a few of Wanda's lines.  At Vanda's insistence Thomas reads the part of Severin who falls for Wanda, an independent woman. He asks to be her slave for a year promising to do whatever she asks of him. She initially refuses but eventually agrees asking more and more degrading things of him.

Vanda has come prepared for the audition which surprises Thomas but her preparation is more than a few costumes to help her get into character, over the course the play actress and director debate Wanda and Severin's relationship and who is dominating who. In parallel the play raises questions about Vanda and Thomas and their relationship - who is manipulating who?

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Review: Waiting For Godot back as an existential sit com at the Arts Theatre

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Patrick O'Donnell & Nick Devlin, Waiting For Godot

I have a fondness for Samuel Beckett's play Waiting For Godot not just because it was one of my A-Level English set texts but because I remember the moment those weird and monotonous words (in my teenage mind) leapt with emotional gusto off the page when we were taken to see it performed at the National Theatre. It wasn't funny in the classroom, it was funny on stage - and sad and lots of other things and this production made me love the play and that moment of words and performance bringing life and meaning all over again.

Patrick O'Donnell's Estragon (Gogo) and Nick Devlin's Vladimir (Didi) - the two friends who pass the time while waiting for Godot - reminded me a little of a comic duo, a sort of Morcambe and Wise. Devlin's Didi is the straight man, the Ernie Wise and O'Donnell the more silly and mischievous Eric Morcambe. 

As they pass the time telling their stories, debating, bickering, and in Gogo's case occasionally falling asleep they present Beckett's play as a kind of existential sit-com. O'Donnell has such an expressive face and a knack for comic timing the chuckles and laughs bubble through the play.

When landowner Pozzo (Paul Kealyn) and his almost entirely mute slave Lucky (Paul Elliot) arrive it affords the opportunity for more physical humour - there is a brilliantly funny sequence involving Lucky's bags. When Lucky 'thinks' it is a masterclass in non-verbal reaction from all three.

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

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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: It's 'yes' or 'no' answers and The Majority rules, National Theatre

IMG_5112If you don't leave the theatre, after seeing The Majority, talking about the show and feeling challenged then you weren't really paying attention. Part stand up, part story, part morality test, comedian Rob Drummond examines democracy mixing his own story (with added dramatic licence, he admits) and a series of live votes.

As you enter the auditorium you are given a small key pad (pictured) and, during the show, are invited to press one for 'yes' and two for 'no' in relation to a series of statements. The results are displayed moments later on screens as percentages and the majority rules.

The statements on which your opinion is sought start off with basics to establish the make up of the audience and rules (should we allow latecomers, for example) moving on to re-runs of recent referendum votes and a variety of moral dilemmas. Some relate to variations of a scenario involving a deadly runaway train heading towards a group of workmen, others relate to the story Rob Drummond tells.

His story is about a random encounter he had the morning after the Scottish independence referendum and how that took him on a journey across Scotland and into the world of protests, activism, freedom of speech and the far right.

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Review and production pictures: The art of acerbic wit and self defence in Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

Production photos by Marc Brenner

The kitchen set of Alexi Kaye Campbell's play Apologia is framed like a picture. Later art historian and successful writer Kristin (Stockard Channing) will describe a moment of revelation she had when looking at a renaissance painting but as family and friends are reunited for her birthday dinner that won't be the only revelation.

Kristin is smart, acerbic, pragmatic and opinionated - she certainly doesn't hold back. She protested in the 1960s, is an atheist and has a picture of Karl Marx in her downstairs loo. Her son Peter (Joseph Millson) works for a bank "that rapes the third world" and Simon (also Joseph Millson) can't keep a job and is suffering from depression. Neither are impressed that their mother has omitted them from her recently published biography - it re-opens old wounds.

Peter's girlfriend Trudi (Laura Carmichael) is the type of American Kristin says she left the States to get away from. She is nice, vanilla sweet and an easy target for Kristin's sarcasm: "You're a Christian, I'm thrilled for you.". Simon's girlfriend Claire (Freema Agyeman) is also an easy target: She is an actress on a soap opera. Having been impressed by a performance Claire gave in a fringe production of The Doll's House Kristin is disappointed by her career direction - and penchant for designer dresses. Kristin seeks an authenticity of purpose in people to match that of her own. However, it takes someone Kristin doesn't expect to expose it as a mask, as a means of self preservation and self defence.

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Review: The naked and messy Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Apollo Theatre #YoungVicCat

Cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-photo-by-charlie-gray2Hands up all those who remember Tom Hiddleston taking a shower on stage during Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse? Well Tom Hiddleston and that production hasn't got anything on Jack O'Connell and the Young Vic's Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

The shower is a permanent part of the opulent, minimalist, bedroom set for Tennessee Williams' classic play; thick black carpet, gold walls, black dressing table and chair, black bed with just some fresh flowers on the night stands for colour.

Right at the front of the stage, on the carpet, are six bottles of whisky, a bag of ice and some glasses, towards the back and to one side is the stem of the shower. There is no screen, or shower tray it grows out of the carpet and it becomes something to lean on or sit against as well as a shower. Rather randomly it reminded me of the lamp post in the Chronicles of Narnia - probably because the characters sometimes gather around it.

As the lights come up Brick (Jack O'Connell) is sat naked, under the flow of water (yes it runs straight into the carpet to the delight of the stage manager I'm sure), while his wife Maggie (Sienna Miller) talks incessantly about nothing and everything.

It is Brick's family home and preparations are underway for Big Daddy's (Colm Meaney) 65th birthday party but there is more than just blowing out candles on the cake at stake. Big Daddy is a rich land owner who's just had a cancer scare and there are ambitions and expectations among the wider family which, it quickly becomes clear, has led to rivalries. This isn't the Walton's.

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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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